Fernando Tatis Jr. connected well enough -- a 105 mph rocket to straightaway center field. But there would be no bat flip this time. Tatis genuinely couldn’t tell whether he’d gotten enough of Brusdar Graterol’s 99 mph fastball to send it out of Globe Life Field.
So the Padres' superstar shortstop simply placed his bat in the left-handed batter's box and began his trot, watching as Cody Bellinger backtracked toward the center-field wall.
Bellinger spun as he approached the warning track. He timed his leap. He stretched his glove beyond the fence. And somehow, some way, Bellinger came down with the baseball -- 407 feet from where it started its journey.
The Padres were that close.
Tatis' seventh-inning drive could've given San Diego a late lead. Instead, it was the difference in a gut-punch 6-5 loss to the Dodgers in Game 2 of the National League Division Series in Arlington.
“Tatis squared it up pretty good,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said. “For him to go and rob one there, there’s not much to say. ... What can you say? It’s a helluva play.”
The Dodgers celebrated. Graterol threw his hat and blew a kiss in the direction of Manny Machado, who barked back angrily. But anyone who has watched the 2020 Padres knew the game wasn’t done.
Bellinger’s blast kept the Dodgers' one-run lead intact, and they tacked on two runs in the bottom of the frame. But the Padres roared back in a wild ninth inning, scoring twice and loading the bases for Eric Hosmer. Joe Kelly, who took over from a struggling Kenley Jansen, got Hosmer to bounce harmlessly to second, ending arguably the most dramatic game of the postseason thus far.
“Those are the situations you want to come up in,” Hosmer said. “Those are the situations you want to come through for your team right there. It didn’t happen. We showed a lot of fight, didn’t quit as a team. It stinks that we just fell short.”
Now, a team that’s been full of comebacks all season is in need of its greatest comeback yet -- or else it’s going home without any cake.
Trailing two games to none, the Padres will need three victories in three days to advance to the NL Championship Series. In MLB history, teams that have taken a 2-0 lead in a best-of-five series have won that series 73 of 83 times. The Padres will be looking to rekindle the 1984 NLCS, which they fell behind 2-0 before rallying to beat the Cubs.
No team in Major League history has ever even pushed Los Angeles to a Game 5 after losing the first two in a best-of-five. But San Diego led the Majors in comeback victories during the regular season, and overcame a 1-0 deficit in the NL Wild Card Series even after trailing by four runs late in Game 2.
“When our lives are on the line, we see what we’re made of,” Hosmer said. “It’s the same situation here. It’d be a heck of a story to come back against these guys and take this series. But certainly a lot of work we’ve got to do.”
The Padres will turn to a 21-year-old rookie left-hander to start that work. Adrian Morejon gets the ball Thursday for his first career playoff start with the Padres facing a must-win Game 3. He’s worked three scoreless frames already this postseason, showcasing an electric arsenal.
If the Padres get to a Game 4, they’ll tab Chris Paddack. But first things first. They still haven’t won a game against the Dodgers since Trent Grisham homered and strutted against Clayton Kershaw on Sept. 14.
Grisham’s home run clearly sparked some bad blood, and it came to the fore again on Wednesday. After Bellinger’s catch, Graterol and Machado, in the on-deck circle at the time, broke into a shouting match. As they came off the field, the rest of the Dodgers chimed in.
“I just feel like when he hit his home run, he threw his bat and this, that and the other, and when we take one away, we can celebrate, too,” said Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts. “It’s gotta be two sides to it. That’s just what I was saying.”
Betts was referring to a rather emphatic bat toss from Machado an inning prior. With the Padres trailing 4-1, Machado pulverized a Kershaw slider and sent it into the right-field seats. He turned to his dugout and screamed, throwing his bat in the direction of his teammates.
“Just sparked the whole entire team,” Hosmer said. “I feel like we got a lot of momentum back. He fired up the dugout and certainly got everybody to their feet. That’s what he does. He’s a sparkplug. Our offense was kind of dead at that point, so he definitely woke up the dugout, definitely woke up the offense and got us going.”
Hosmer in particular. Three pitches later, the Padres first baseman hit a towering drive into the Dodgers’ bullpen, cutting their lead to one.
Cue the fireworks in the seventh.
“Obviously things get heated,” Tingler said. “It’s two sides battling, grown men laying it all out there. Emotions come up.”
Indeed, the 2020 season has given birth to a rivalry in the NL West. The Dodgers held on to their edge Wednesday night, because Bellinger held on to a baseball at the center-field fence in Arlington.
“You’ve got to tip your cap sometimes,” Hosmer said. “Cody made a heck of a play out there in center field. It’s a shame there wasn’t 50,000 people in the stands that were able to see that catch.
“That’s just the way the game goes sometimes. It’s a game of inches, and we were on the wrong side of it tonight.”